A theory for cyclic shifts between alternative states in shallow lakes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


Some shallow lakes switch repeatedly back and forth between a vegetation dominated clear-water state and a contrasting turbid state. Usually such alternations occur quite irregularly, but in some cases the switches between states are remarkably regular. Here we use data from a well-studied Dutch lake and a set of simple models to explore possible explanations for such cyclic behavior. We first demonstrate from a graphical model that cycles may in theory occur if submerged macrophytes promote water clarity in the short run, but simultaneously cause an increased nutrient retention, implying an accumulation of nutrients in the long run. Thus, although submerged plants create a positive feedback on their own growth by clearing the water, they may in the long run undermine their position by creating a slow ¿internal eutrophication¿. We explore the potential role of two different mechanisms that may play a role in this internal eutrophication process using simulation models: (1) reduction of the P concentration in the water column by macrophytes, leading to less outflow of P, and hence to a higher phosphorus accumulation in the lake sediments and (2) a build-up of organic matter over time resulting in an increased sediment oxygen demand causing anaerobic conditions that boost P release from the sediment. Although the models showed that both mechanisms can produce cyclic behavior, the period of the cycles caused by the build-up of organic material seemed more realistic compared to data of the Dutch Lake Botshol in which regular cycles with a period of approximately 7 years have been observed over the past 17 years.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-27
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • submerged macrophytes
  • stable states
  • limit-cycles
  • catastrophic shifts
  • eutrophic lakes
  • long-term
  • ecosystems
  • slow
  • models
  • biomanipulation


Dive into the research topics of 'A theory for cyclic shifts between alternative states in shallow lakes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this